Background: Attention is used to enhance neural processing of selected parts of a visual scene. It increases neural responses to stimuli near target locations and is usually coupled to eye movements. Covert attention shifts, however, decouple the attentional focus from gaze, allowing to direct the attention to a peripheral location without moving the eyes. We tested whether covert attention shifts modulate ongoing neuronal activity in cortical area V6A, an area that provides a bridge between visual signals and arm-motor control.
Methodology/principal findings: We performed single cell recordings from 3 Macaca Fascicularis trained to fixate straight-head, while shifting attention outward to a peripheral cue and inward again to the fixation point. We found that neurons in V6A are influenced by spatial attention. The attentional modulation occurs without gaze shifts and cannot be explained by visual stimulations. Visual, motor, and attentional responses can occur in combination in single neurons.
Conclusions/significance: This modulation in an area primarily involved in visuo-motor transformation for reaching may form a neural basis for coupling attention to the preparation of reaching movements. Our results show that cortical processes of attention are related not only to eye-movements, as many studies have shown, but also to arm movements, a finding that has been suggested by some previous behavioral findings. Therefore, the widely-held view that spatial attention is tightly intertwined with-and perhaps directly derived from-motor preparatory processes should be extended to a broader spectrum of motor processes than just eye movements.